Arctic Regional Security

Arctic Regional Security

Alexander Sergunin (Saint Petersburg State University, Russia & Nizhny Novgorod State University, Russia)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-6954-1.ch004


This chapter examines an emerging regional security system in the Arctic. There was a significant shift in the Arctic powers' threat perceptions and security policies in the High North. In contrast with the Cold War era when the Arctic was a zone for the global confrontation between the USSR and the U.S./NATO, now this region is seen by international players as a platform for international cooperation. The Arctic countries now believe that there are no serious hard security threats to them and that the soft security agenda is much more important. The military power now has new functions, such as ascertaining coastal states' sovereignty over their exclusive economic zones and continental shelves in the region; protecting the Arctic countries' economic interests in the North, and performing some symbolic functions. The Arctic states believe that the regional cooperative agenda could include climate change mitigation, environmental protection, maritime safety, Arctic research, indigenous peoples, cross- and trans-border cooperative projects, culture, etc.
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There are two contradictory trends in the contemporary scholarship as regards an emerging Arctic regional security system. One strand, dominated by the traditional geopolitical and realist ways of thinking, prefers to represent the High North as a region of growing confrontation between major world players because of the competition for the Arctic’s rich natural resources and control over maritime routes. This group of experts predicts remilitarization of the Arctic and arms race in the region, not excluding the possibility of armed conflicts in this part of the planet (Blunden, 2009; Borgerson, 2008; Huebert, 2010; Huebert, Exner-Pirot, Lajeunesse, & Gulledge, 2012; Indzhiev, 2010; Khramchikhin, 2013; Kraska, 2009; Lukin, 2010).

The Western experts are especially critical about Russia's Arctic policies portraying it as expansionist, aggressive, and an example of “gunboat diplomacy” (Kraska, 2009, p. 1117; Lakshmi, 2015; Schepp & Traufetter, 2009; Smith & Giles, 2007; Stratfor, 2015; Willett, 2009, p. 53; Zysk, 2008). According to Western analysts, due to Russia's economic weakness and technological backwardness, it tends to emphasize coercive military instruments to protect its national interests in the Arctic which sooner or later may lead to a direct military confrontation with NATO member-states. China is also mentioned as another potential regional spoiler because, on the one hand, it is interested in the Arctic natural resources but, on the other hand, Beijing has no proper legal and political representation in the region to ensure a reliable access to the local resources (Flake, 2013; Struzik, 2013; Wishnick, 2017).

Another extreme school believes that the Arctic is an exceptional “zone of peace” and a “territory of dialogue”. Today’s exceptional political vision of the Arctic emerged with the end of the Cold War. The end of superpower rivalry meant that the region lost most of its geostrategic and geopolitical relevance, even though strategic military assets, such as nuclear capabilities, remained in the region. In fact, the geopolitical dynamics of the Arctic had already started to transform in the latter years of the Cold War. In the famous 1987 Murmansk speech, the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev laid down the vision of the Arctic as a zone of peace and cooperation and initiated the gradual process of “desecuritization” of the Arctic as an element of the broader Soviet reorientation (Atland, 2008).

In this sense, the Arctic has become understood as a “distinctive region in international society” (Young, 2009); a region detached from world politics and characterized as an apolitical space of regional governance, functional cooperation, and peaceful coexistence (Heininen, Exner-Pirot, & Plouffe, 2013, p. 25).

The most radical version of this school believes that an international legal regime similar to the Antarctic Treaty should be established in the Arctic to make it a “region of peace and cooperation” (Dodin & Kovalev, 2003; Perelet, Kukushkina, & Travnikov, 2000). The proposed new Arctic regime should prohibit any economic and military activities in the region. Only subsistence economies of indigenous peoples of the North and research activities should be allowed in the High North. Some globalists suggest establishing a UN-based governance regime in the Arctic which should replace the existing national sovereignty-oriented model (Kharlampieva & Lagutina, 2011).

Key Terms in this Chapter

NORDEFCO (Nordic Defense Cooperation): A collaboration among the Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden) in the area of defense. The aim of this arrangement is to strengthen the member countries' defense capabilities by identifying areas for cooperation and to promote effective solutions. The memorandum of understanding was signed in Helsinki on November 4, 2009.

Soft Security: A freedom from non-military threats, challenges, and risks, such as environmental, economic, societal, information and other problems.

Security Regime: A set of formal and informal principles, rules, and norms that regulate state behavior in the field security.

Confidence and Security-Building Measures: The actions taken to reduce fear of attack by both (or more) parties in a situation of tension with or without physical conflict; measures taken to increase mutual trust between various nations.

Revolution in Military Affairs: The radical change in military doctrines, strategies, tactics, and methods of warfare under the influence of new military technologies (especially modern information technology, telecommunication, space technology and high-precision weapons).

Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone: Defined by the United Nations as an agreement which a group of states has freely established by treaty or convention that bans the use, development, or deployment of nuclear weapons in a given area, that has mechanisms of verification and control to enforce its obligations, and that is recognized as such by the General Assembly of the United Nations.

Hard Security: A freedom from the military-related threats, dangers, and risks.

Arms Control: The international restrictions upon the development, production, stockpiling, proliferation and usage of conventional weapons and weapons of mass destruction. Arms control is typically exercised through international treaties and agreements, although it may also comprise unilaterally imposed restrictions and efforts by a nation or group of nations to enforce limitations upon a non-consenting country.

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